One Small Step For Medicine, One Giant Leap For Eugenics

David Albert Jones

On August 2 scientists published the results of the first experiments conducted on human embryos using the gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 in the United States [1]. These experiments have shown greater efficacy in editing embryos than previous attempts.

At first glance, it might seem like efforts to prevent the inheritance of genetic disease, or treat it at an early stage, are a good thing to pursue. Nonetheless, some elements of these experiments – including both methodology and intentions – raise serious ethical concern.

Reproductive exploitation of women

In order to conceive human embryos for these experiments, the scientists needed human eggs. They therefore recruited healthy women who were paid to undergo ovarian stimulation to produce eggs for the research. Ostensibly these women did not “sell” their eggs but were “compensated” for their “time, effort, and discomfort” and presumably also for risks associated with the process.

The ethical concern here is not just whether this practice constitutes buying and selling of body parts and whether such trade fails to respect the dignity of the human body. The greater concern is that women are being encouraged by financial inducements to part with their reproductive potential. The short term risks of ovarian stimulation are well known [2], and in this case the risks were incurred not in the hope that a baby would be born but purely to produce human embryos for scientific research.

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